Family Deals With Fire Aftermath, Insurance Issues

SAN DIEGO — Lee and Shirley Taylor aren’t alone.
They are victims of the October wildfires that destroyed their
Ramona home. They’re also underinsured.
“That was our request, insure us against total loss,” said Lee
Taylor. He said his agent handed him a 108-page insurance policy he
believed fully insured his home and 8-acre avocado farm.
After the fires, he learned that wasn’t the case and he was
underinsured by at least $350,000.
“Frankly, when we called them after the fires and asked why we
were so underinsured, they said gosh we hate to hear that. You hate to
hear that, we hate to hear that,” said Lee.
Now the Taylors said they’re talking to their insurance provider,
Allied Insurance, and hoping to come to an agreement.
Karen Reimus is with a non-profit group called United
Policyholders. The group helps wildfire victims understand insurance
“The problem is most people don’t realize they are underinsured,”
said Reimus. The same thing happened to her in 2003, as the Cedar Fire
destroyed her home, and when she went to rebuild she was underinsured.
“We thought we were fully covered,” she said. “We had brand new
policy with extended replacement with one of the best insurance
companies in the U.S.”
She said it’s like a flashback now of 2003 because it’s as if
nothing has changed.
United Policyholders surveyed 274 victims of the 2007 October
wildfires in San Diego and San Bernardino Counties and say 75 percent of
them were underinsured by an average of $240,000.
“Most people are underinsured and don’t know it because they
relied on company to set limits, and it didn’t do it correctly,” said
Harvey Levine is a San Diego attorney that handles many insurance
cases. He said it’s time homeowners take a more commanding role.
“The trusting days are over,” Levine said. He suggests getting a
contractor or an estimator into your home to help figure out how much it
would cost to rebuild in the event of a total loss. He warns that many
insurance policies are misleading.
“You see replacement value plus 25 percent. You figure your
insurance company knows what it will take to replace your home.
Sometimes it’s two to three hundred thousand dollars under. It’s
devastating,” Levine said.
The Taylors say it’s a good idea to write your insurance agent a
letter asking them to confirm that your home is fully protected. This
way there’s proof in writing.